National Interest: Disarming Kashmir

Use Modi's call for debate on Art 370 for a bold rethink ó begin with role of the army.

First, a disclosure. Narendra Modi's call for a fresh debate on Article 370 is not the provocation for this week's 'National Interest', though it could very well have been so. My inspiration, on the other hand, was more personal. At breakfast in a hotel coffee shop in Mumbai last week, a guest walked up. After saying nice things to me about our paper, he said he had only one complaint: that we had paid no attention to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, while we go on and on about the Gujarat riots of 2002. I argued it wasn't a zero-sum game and both were terrible contemporary tragedies, and that it wasn't fair to say that the media had underplayed one while exaggerating the other.

But an argumentative Indian doesn't give in so easily, particularly one who is a regular Indian Express reader. So he asked me how exercised anybody had been about the "half a million Pandits exiled" from Kashmir and "2,000 killed in cold blood", while "a thousand Muslims killed in Gujarat" was such a big story. He said he wasn't a Kashmiri Pandit either. He had merely married one.

Now, there is nothing more painful, even infuriating, than the idea that the lives and safety of one set of your countrymen be valued differently from another's, just because they happen to be from different faiths or regions. So I said, at the risk of over-simplification and with some convenient rounding off of numbers, that if you think a half million Pandits were exiled, a half million Indian soldiers armed with the most illiberal of laws have been fighting to "rectify" things in the state. And if you say that 2,000 Pandits have been killed, something like a hundred thousand Kashmiri Muslims have been killed (though not all necessarily by our soldiers) in Kashmir's 24-year maelstrom (remember, the attacks on Pandits started in 1989). So what are you complaining about? But if you think that was crude on my part (which it was), listen to his response: "Oh, really, that many Kashmiri Muslims have been killed! Then it's ok. But why isn't the media telling the world that?" I realised that this argument was going someplace I did not particularly want to go. Definitely not when a very busy day was just beginning.

... contd.

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